By Gretchen Wehmhoff
Heavy, wet snow dropping on Skagway and the upper elevations of the Klondike Highway was too much for a giant snowblower used by the Skagway based DOT.
Shaun McKnight of DOT, said Dec.13 ended with a truck stuck in a ditch, blocking the road. While the owners of the truck pulled the vehicle out using heavy equipment, DOT sanded around the area.
McKnight said the snow just kept coming.
At 4:30 p.m., it was snowing. By the time DOT got the call about the stuck truck at 7:30 that night, there were more than 10 inches on the highway.
“It was coming down, based on my math, at about three inches an hour,” McKnight said.
For the safety of other traffic, specifically large trucks, the highway was closed for the night while people worked to free the truck.
After the wet snow settled and the truck was free, the DOT crew returned the next day to tackle the road. It was then the only working snowblower available to the shop had a clutch go out, closing the highway again.
Haines DOT sent a replacement blower on the Hubbard on Friday, the only ferry that made the trip that week. DOT spokesperson for the Southcoast region, Sam Dapcevich, said AMHS made an exception on protocol to get the blower to Skagway.
“It was something that had to be laid down, and normally everything has to have wheels. So the equipment was placed on the deck in order to get it to Skagway.”
McKnight and his small crew got the blower installed and by Saturday morning they were on the road. The highway opened around noon on Saturday, Dec. 16.
The damaged blower is one of two used by the Skagway DOT. Mcknight sent the blower to Juneau for repairs.
“I only have one mechanic,” said McKnight. “It usually takes a full crew a week to fix one of those, so it needed to go to Juneau.”
The equipment has its own 700 hp motor that operates the blower alone. A “cooked” clutch was a big deal.
The other blower resting in the Skagway DOT shop is also in need of repair, but obtaining parts has been a challenge since the manufacturer is no longer in business.
McKnight communicated with the Canadian crew, who was also running short-staffed, to see if they could plow a lane through if they had time and resources. The crew chief needed clearance to help on the U.S. side of the border. That clearance didn’t come.
In the past, Mcknight recalls that there were insurance issues that kept Canada crews and equipment from crossing past the avalanche gates into the US.
The Haines road to Haines Junction has also been closed for days.
According to the Haines DOT crew, they’ve been able to plow up to the border, but the Canada side was still unplowed that weekend.
McKnight, noting the small Skagway crews says if someone wants a job driving the large machines they should apply. The crew is down to two.
“We’ll teach you. You just need a CDL and a clean driving record.”
Heavy snowfall of 6 – 20 inches is expected for the Haines and Skagway area this weekend.